Anyone who works with, takes care of, or parents children between the ages of two to four years knows that this is the age of ‘why.’ While this may very well press your buttons and seem like a testing strategy, these questions are actually an expression of how very young children are fueled by curiosity and innately driven to figure out how the world works.
Why questions are rich with possibilities to teach important concepts and skills, but even more important, present us with opportunities to nurture their curiosity and passion for learning. For instance, a child can learn a lot from even simple explanations – as simple as ‘this plant grows because it comes from a seed.’ Soon they can provide explanations themselves, so you can say, ‘Why do you think it happens?’ That can tell you what your child thinks about the world, which is fascinating and opens doors for the adult-child learning partnership to reach higher levels.
The Creativity Connections neighborhood at DCM is one of my favorite places to observe this natural sense of wonder. Watching what sparks each individual child’s curiosity is fascinating. When visiting the Museum, here are some ways you can encourage and extend your child’s learning.
Welcoming and embracing children’s questions
To help nurture children’s inquiry, communicate positive responses to their questions—no matter how many!
Provide a positive response. This will communicate to the child that their thoughts are important and that you encourage their curiosity. If the moment isn’t right, assign a time for the two of you to talk about the concept later. Can we talk about this at lunch? I’m going to think about it until then.
Giving answers that extend learning opportunities
Provide children with a short explanation that can reinforce a concept and open the door to future investigations.
Add a challenge to the end of an answer. I see you’ve made a cube with the blue Magna-Tiles®. What would happen if you used a blue and a red?
Connect the explanation to something they already know or are familiar with. The Magna-Tiles® are translucent. When the light from the light tables travels through them the colors mix just like they do when you are painting and mix your colors together.
Instead of “I don’t know” try “Let’s find out!”
Let children take the lead role of scientist by encouraging them to problem solve and figure out the answer to some of their questions.
Young children may need your help to get them started. Start by offering suggestions. Allowing children to predict, observe and test their theories are important steps of the scientific process. What would happen if you moved your arms really quickly when the light flashes in the ‘Freeze Your Shadow’ room?
Follow up after the experience by asking your child to repeat back what he or she has learned. How did you make your picture green? What colors did you use?
I would love to hear about your experiences with wonder and why questions either here at the Museum or at home. Share them here or on Facebook. And stay tuned next week for a deeper dive into the theory behind inquiry based learning for older children.